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On Temporalities and Other Things

"I think the future lies in small individual subcultures with fans who care about a creator's output rather than just being tolerated by a moderately interested crowd", says MFA grad candidate (Umeå Art Academy) Oscar Häggström whose practice circles around the existential question of where the body begins and technology ends in quotidian life.

Oscar Häggström


C-P: You’ve had an interesting trajectory with art schools, having studied at Valand in Gothenburg for your BFA and later going up north in Umeå for the pursuit of your MFA. The reverse move compared to other artists. What signifies the academy in Umeå and Umeå as a city and place to be making art?


O.H: I think you understand early on when you study that there is a set path to make a career or work in contexts that are made more visible than others and that almost exclusively dependent on big cities. It creates an interesting relationship between creativity and space. Is it possible to make good art outside the leading structure if it does not extend beyond the school corridors? If you make art in the forest, but no one hears it, does it make any sound then?

But, of course, Umeå is still one of five art academies, so to say that you're outside of the art world is to exaggerate. For me, the geographical location has worked as an opposition to the current situation that you must be in the capital as an artist. And in my practice, a driving force is to create events in other locations.

Umeå is also one of the few schools that still give a lot of time for students to find their artistry and not rushing it. I do not know if this results from less cultural activity in the city or the stillness of Norrland? But for me, time has been essential, and the opportunity to experiment and not be afraid to fail has made me a better artist. It's my experience that the larger cities come with an underlying pressure (whether they want to or not) for students to believe that they must become "accomplished artists" as soon as possible, which in turn only leads to clichés and burnout.


Oscar Häggström & Grälls Johan Kvarnström, Gothard part 1 the source, outskirts of Umeå, 2021, photo: Grälls Johan Kvarnström & Oscar Häggström

C-P: Given what you say, what are your thoughts on the need of artists working together collectively to lay paths for new structures to arise that inform greater opportunities for artists across the board?


O.H: I think it is crucial for an artist today to find a collective context with other artists. Brian Eno coined the expression “Scenius", which stands for: "the intelligence and the intuition of an entire cultural scene.” It is the communal form of the concept of “genius". One to get rid of the individual artist's myth as a genius and emphasize the group as a significant source of artistic practice. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and even the things presented as something singular often are done during collaboration and in conversation with others.

The Internet has also, with all new platforms, such as Patreon, been able to make it possible for an artist to reach out and create platforms without having to be too dependent on financial support from a large institution (in the form of e.g. scholarships) or a large number of people. I think the future lies in small individual subcultures with fans who care about a creator's output rather than just being tolerated by a moderately interested crowd.


Oscar Häggström, Aerosol Sage Intent Unlock, _to live until you die_, Göteborgs Konstförening, Gothenburg, 2020, photo: Erik Gustafsson

C-P: You notably work with animation as a fixture in your practice where animation is seated in spatial installations alongside sculpture, music, scenography and light. Animation despite its connection to and place within contemporary video art feels a bit overlooked as an artistic craft and expression in its own right. What are your own considerations when it comes to choosing animation as a part of your visual language? O.H: I have always been interested in drawing and telling stories since I was little. I was the play leader in my friend's circle and made games inspired by Nickeloden, Bamse, and Disney. That then developed into becoming interested in manga and anime and understanding the craft behind it. So engaging in animation, I see only as a natural development of my desire to tell stories. I've understood that animation is often overlooked or connected to another "field"; the commercial market, informing TV series, toys etc., and perhaps is not all set as a genuine artistic expression. But I feel that you should dig where you stand instead of choosing a medium depending on how it stands as a recognized artistic medium or trend. So, I have always thought about how I can make what I am already interested in into so-called high-brow art. However, you see animation more and more all the time. But as it looks right now, I do not see on the Swedish scene too many people do what I do, so to feel that you have your own lane to operate on is something I think is fun.


Oscar Häggström, _Wood (or how I learned to grow), MA1 show, Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, photo: Desiree Burenstrand


C-P: I remember in the past we spoke about your interest to incorporate the notion of the scenic and natural Northern landscapes of woods in your art; something that doesn’t necessarily at once bring thought to animation but makes such union all the more exciting given a disconnect in apparent connotations. Moreover, in your spatial installations you aim to actually merge the digital and organic realm and dissolve such boundaries.


O.H: First, it's fun to play with opposites; it creates almost a direct nerve in a piece. For example, in my exhibition the paranoid is never entirely mistaken from 2019, I played with electronics (cables and batteries) versus organic material, such as soil and grass. And in my latest exhibition this year, Wood (or how I learned to grow), you saw wooden logs and leaves working together with projections. I find it exciting to work with two mediums that at first glance do not necessarily match with each other; the "digital synthetic" versus the "organic natural". But all the more, it has become a way of working thematically. Mixing the organic with the synthetic and animations allows me to work visually with the question: where does the body begin and technology end in everyday life?


Oscar Häggström, _Wood (or how I learned to grow), MA1 show, Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, photo: Desiree Burenstrand

I coined an expression in my bachelor's essay for it: “Synthetic realism”. Synthetic realism is a term to explain the transition I feel we are experiencing right now. We more and more move to a digital technocracy where our lives are in a digital space but still not so far along that we can get rid of our physicality yet.


In Wood (or how I learned to grow, at the end of the installation, one of the antagonists says, "I still felt the material weight of my body in the world." So, what happens when we partake in a world that is trying to evolve away from our bodies? I'm interested in illustrating how that transition affects us, instead of talking about a stage before the internet or after the big singularity where we presumably all live in an iCloud.


C-P: Interesting. Do elaborate on the presence of time in your own work…

O.H: I have probably always felt a distance about my animations and video art in general as an art form, in the sense that it never quite saw the poetic charm of a painting or sculpture. Hence, my fascination and need to use organic material to combine. Elements of my work are stuck somehow in a contemporary space and never feel like something that can stand the test of time, as I see that a Karin Mamma Andersson painting will. Such elements are bound in time. I was talking to a friend who spoke about this as the most unrecorded time in history. Despite the tons of material, and the hours and hours flowing around us and making us numb, it is still so fleeting for us. A feeling that it can all just disappear. Something I think about every time my mobile does not have coverage or there is a power outage, is that I no longer have access to my contacts, photos, and app to the bank. Then it suddenly does not feel so stupid to have everything hidden in a mattress the way my grandmother used to. It's probably the feeling of that "tactile presence" that my grandmother felt that I have missed in my animations. Even though I created them, and they were made in a computer sprung from materials of the organic earth, they somehow exist outside of me.


Oscar Häggström, _the paranoid is never entirely mistaken_, Valand Academy, 2020, photo: Hendrik Zeitler


That's why my attraction to video and animations has always worked best in an installation environment. The works somehow are given an appearance of being in one's own time and space and not dependent on me as an active viewer. It may even still be there after the staff of a venue turns off the light and goes home for the day. The time boundary is also something I have tried to work with as an approach. What if the time and the “now” in the animations is limited and not meant to last forever? Why not make use of the charm of the moment, “the fixed”, and let it repeat itself and as such do it forever. I found through the use of the loop as a technique and per such repetition, a way to make my animations (that last only a few seconds) "hypnotic" and eternal.


Oscar Häggström, _NPC (...)_, Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, 2021, photo: Oscar Häggström

C-P: What’s currently cooking inside your studio as we speak and what’s next for you in the second half of 2021? O.H: I’m currently working on a collaborative show with Grälls Johan Kvarnström that will take place this summer in two parts. Then later in fall I will be showing some works in a digital showcase called Droplt together with artists like Oliver Laric and Tschabalala Self. But mostly this year will see preparations for a group show with my class at the start of the new school term, for a solo in 2022 at Galleri 54 in Gothenburg and of course for my MA exhibition at Bildmuseet in Umeå. I’m also lastly doing an animation series with an another Valand alumni, Ismaila Jallow.